Introductions to the Reading for the Fourth Sunday in Easter, 2016
Composed by one of our lay readers this week. The reading itself follows after the introduction.
This is a familiar reading, using the metaphor of God as shepherd and us as his flock, which is a repeating theme throughout the Old and New Testaments. The foundational fathers, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David were all shepherds of Israel.
However, in order to get to the root of the reading we must go back to chapter 9 which describes the healing of the blind beggar. In this case, the story is repeated not once, but three times to clarify its importance. The man was born blind and in that time such a devastating disability was thought to be a result of sin, either by the parents or by the unborn fetus, so when Christ healed the blind man it was not only a physical healing but a spiritual healing. It was such an astounding event that the villagers sought out the Pharisees to explain how such a miracle could occur. The Pharisees themselves were amazed and asked that the man repeat his story and then also asked his parents to explain the event. Next the Pharisees called the man for a third time and he said that Christ must be a man sent by God as this was the only way that such a healing could take place. However, the action took place on the Sabbath, when work was forbidden so the Pharisees proclaimed that Christ was not a holy man and the healed man should not try to teach them (who set up themselves to be the shepherds of the flock, and the guides and rulers of the people) about God and in anger they cast the man out of the synagogue. This was a most devastating punishment, perhaps worse than being a blind beggar because he would lose any connection at all to the community.
Christ’s compassion for the man and his anger about the unfairness of the Pharisees action is evident now in Chapter 10.
In verse 1, Christ’s words begin with the phrase Verily, Verily I say unto you which signals to us not only the certain truth but also that this is an important parable and all should listen carefully. Christ sounds uncharacteristically cranky as he speaks to the Scribes and Pharisees who had named Christ as an impostor, and a deceiver. The parable is designed to show that Christ is the true and only shepherd, who was appointed, called, and sent by God, whose voice the sheep hear, and know, and whom they follow; and that the Scribes and Pharisees, were akin to thieves and robbers, by not acting as shepherds of the flock, but as gatekeepers who stand in the way of God’s great compassion to those in need. They did not come in at the right door, but in another way, and used their religious standing in ways that denied God’s unconditional love for his people in order to increase their power to control the community.
In verse 6, it is evident that the Pharisees do not understand what Christ is saying to them, so he rephrases the story. He says, ‘I am the gate for the sheep.’ This was because the shepherd provided the means by which the sheep could enter the safety of the sheepfold and then be kept away from danger. In the same way, Jesus is the only means by which people can come to God. False leaders may pretend to know other paths to God, but in their sinful ways, these false leaders are like thieves.
Christ’s way is the only path to salvation. In his tender care we will be content, like sheep in green pastures and we will follow in his way and through Him, experience an abundant spiritual life which will continue even after we die.
A Reading from the gospel according to John, Chapter 10, verses 1-10 (adapted from the New Standard Revised Version)
"Verily, verily, I say unto you anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’
Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again, Jesus said to them, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God, amen.